The Gators need Karsten Whitson to get healthy and give them some good starts this season
The Florida Gators have been to three consecutive College World Series. Guys like Preston Tucker, Mike Zunino, Daniel Piggott, Hudson Randall, Austin Maddox and Brian Johnson were leading them there. This year they have a roster of guys that even a devoted Gators fan like myself has never heard of.
The lineup "on paper" looks a whole lot weaker than the one the Gators ran out there for three years while becoming college baseball's most prolific power-hitting team. With Tucker and Zunino in the middle of lineup, Florida was never out of a game.
Now they are in rebuilding mode with a new leadoff hitter (Harrison Bader), a new shortstop and No. 2 hitter (Richie Martin), a new first baseman (Zach Powers) and several returning players playing new positions (Vickash Ramjit in right field from first base,Taylor Gushue from designated hitter to catcher, Cody Dent in center field from third base).
The pitching staff is full of new names. Other than opening night starter Jonathan Crawford, there is virtually nobody left from these three CWS teams. Karsten Whitson is out again with shoulder problems, which limited him a year ago. So the Gators will be depending on a lot of new arms.
So with all of that, the opening series against the Duke Blue Devils was pretty successful. Do I follow Duke baseball? No. I don't know how good Duke is. I assume, not very. I don't recall ever seeing Duke in the NCAA tournament, so traditionally they are not good. They could be good this year, or they could be terrible. I do not know.
But Florida took two of three from the Blue Devils over the weekend. Duke won the opener 4-3 and Florida won the Saturday game 4-2. So in those two games, we can say the pitching was good. But the offense did not impress very much.
But on Sunday's rubber game, the offense showed up. In the bottom of the sixth, Duke made a curious decision to pitch to Josh Tobias with a 3-3 score and first base open with two outs and runners on second and third. On deck was Cody Dent, who in his Gators career has been known as "all glove, no bat."
Surely they were going to walk Tobias to load the bases and face Dent, right? Apparently not, as Tobias roped a double to give Florida a 5-3 lead. Then Dent took Duke off the hook somewhat when he singled home Harris to make it 6-3.
That was just the beginning of the offensive fireworks, though. In the seventh inning, sophomore Zach Powers, who has missed most of his first two seasons with injuries, hit a grand slam. If that wasn't enough, he hit another grand slam in the eighth. When the final out was recorded, the score was 16-5.
What a day for Powers! Maybe the Gators have found their new Preston Tucker, who by the way is the only other Gator ever to hit two slams in one game. Hopefully they will have some other gems with all these new names, too. To hang in the very tough SEC, they will need some.